Luke 9: 18-24
Tony van Vuuren
Jesus is not looking for a general consensus, or the most popular opinion, when He asks the two questions in today’s Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus is asking his followers to consider his identity and more; to ponder what our response will be.
The second question Jesus puts to the Apostles (us) is a vital one; it is a question that each one of us must answer for ourselves:
“But who do you say that I am?”
We must be clear about this above all else; we must, each of us, be certain of the identity of Jesus; for it is the very basis on which our faith is built; otherwise how can we place any trust or faith in him?
Peter gives, what must have been, the answer he and his companions had hoped would be true—“the Christ of God” (or “the messiah). He gets the words right, but has the wrong understanding of how Jesus is “the Christ of God.” Peter voices Israel’s ancient hopes, that God would send a descendent of David who would be strong with the might of God; strong enough to restore the dignity and power the nation had had under King David.
We and every disciple since Peter are invited to make our own response to Jesus’ query, “But who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus expects more than a verbal response; He expects a life-response. How we live our faith is the appropriate answer to the very direct question Jesus is asking us today—at this time, in this place, whatever our particular circumstances—
There is no stock answer to, “But who do you say that I am?” Each and every day we have to answer that question by the decisions we make concerning our choice of friends; how we use our time; invest our resources; treat people, especially the least significant; a willingness to be identified as Christ’s disciples; and our practice of self-denial for the welfare of others.
In fact in every facet of our lives!
Each day we must rethink the life we are leading; each day reflect on how we will respond to Jesus in the particulars of a new day. It is hard to imagine how one can become a routine Christian or a Christian in name only, if each day Jesus stands alongside us; asking us the question he put to his disciples and if each day we must consider the response we will make. Discipleship is not a decision we make once or as an issue arising only when we are being severely tested. Rather, responding to Jesus is a commitment that is to happen “each day”.
Jesus specified the kind of messiah he would be. He would be servant to all and give his life to overcome our pre-occupations, indifference, isolation and our submission to evil and sin, by personally taking on sin and even death to set us free. That’s the kind of Messiah Jesus would be.
We, who declare our faith in Jesus, must then put our lives on the line the way Jesus did for us.
Like Him, we too are called to self-denial, service to others, and rejection; if we are truly to be his followers. We too must be willing to live the contradiction of the cross: to gain our life we must be willing to lose it by daily taking up the cross; it is not a part-time practice we do on Sundays or Good Friday or when we are feeling strong and resilient. This cross is not the suffering against which we have no options. Rather, it is the cross we are free to pick up or put down; the cross that gives us the courage to stand out from the crowd and be brave enough to show our fidelity to Christ and His teachings.
This is the cross in Jesus’ invitation, “If anyone would come after me…”
Such lively faith is impossible to sustain on our own. Self-denial and the taking up of the cross is a serious and often difficult decision. But it is a decision we must make; for each of us must respond to Jesus Christ in verbal testimony and in the testimony of our lives. Thankfully we are not on our own to answer Jesus’ question. Instead, we are graced by the constant presence of the Holy Spirit and guided in how we answer that vital question as we start each new day.
We are also hearing Jesus’ question posed to us at this Eucharistic celebration; He stands alongside us as we accept the food that sees us through each day of our Christian commitment. Perhaps we are aware that we have not quite set the world on fire with our Christian zeal; that we have tended to take our faith for granted and let it become formalistic and ritualistic; the wallpaper that decorates the background of our lives.
Today as we receive the Eucharist, we need to ask for Jesus’ life to transform us and for his Spirit to help us answer His question “But who do You say that I am?” with a renewed vigor and dedication.